Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, for coming to the House for this debate. The Minister of State will appreciate that for the south east not having a university is not an ideal. The facts speak for themselves. The south east has higher levels of unemployment and lower levels of educational attainment. There is no one reason for this but it is argued by academics, stakeholders and policy makers that not having a university has played its part in those figures, which are not good for the region. We need a university in the south east that puts us on a level playing field with all the other regions. I am supporter of the technological university of the south east. It is the best fit for the south east and for businesses, people and students.
In the south east we have an airport with no commercial flights. We have two institutes of technology but no university. We are always demanding of the Government that it give us the resources we need as of right. A university is a perfect example of that. What we need for the south east is not just the pegging together of Carlow and Waterford institutes of technology. We have to look at this as the opportunity to build a new world class university of international standing. This will only happen if resources and capacity are put in place. We need to increase the footprint of the campuses of Waterford and Carlow. In my view, the headquarters of the new university needs to be in the economic engine of the south east, its capital, namely Waterford. I know a change management strategy is being worked on by both institutes but I am concerned that the process for the south east is well behind other consortiums. Does the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, share that concern? How do we transition from where we are now with two institutes of technology to a university of international standing that can be on par with existing universities and can create the level playing field for people and businesses in the south east?
This will not happen if capital funding is not forthcoming.
I tabled a parliamentary question asking the Minister of State about the capital spend for all universities and institutes of technology. According to the response I received, TCD received €15 million, DCU received €32.84 million, UL received €1.7 million, IT Tallaght received €7.7 million, IT Dundalk received €18.4 million, GMIT Castlebar received €2 million and IT Limerick received €11.5 million. There was no mention of Waterford. I went back to the Secretary General of the Department to query that because I was aware that there were plans to build a new engineering, computing and general teaching building in Waterford. I was informed that was the case but the information was not in the original response. The question then arises as to when this will start and finish. We see the capital funding that has been made available for other institutes of technology. Why is this capital funding not in place in Waterford and why has the building not commenced. We are told that it will be a 12,800 sq. m building that will provide additional academic and teaching space but the reality is that much more needs to be done. If we want a university in the south east so that we can attract people to the region and seek to retain those who are currently obliged to leave in order to access third-level education because we do not have a university, we must have the capacity to do so. If we want to attract new graduates to the new university, we must have the capacity to do so. That means resources and capital funding. Can the Minister of State outline the funding that will be put in place in the coming years to ensure that we have a university of international standing which can deliver for the south east?